So is Vineyard Haven now the Taos of the East? I knew two years ago there was something very special about what lured us to permanent living in Vineyard Haven, but who knew it would be nationally noted?
Our Chamber of Commerce announced on April 3 that Vineyard Haven was named one of America’s best small town art places for 2013. In fact, it’s in the top 12. The guiding factors for this distinction are “the highest concentrations of arts nonprofits, core arts-oriented businesses and workers in creative occupations,” according to data analyzed by Impresa Inc., a firm specializing in the study of regional economies, innovation and industry clusters. And they like to call these towns ArtPlaces with a capital A, a capital P and no space.
The other small-town winners are: Eureka Springs, Ariz.; Crested Butte, Colo.; Ketchum, Idaho; Boothbay Harbor, Me.; Lanesboro, Minn.; Highlands, N.C.; Taos, N.M.; Marfa, Tex.; Stowe, Vt.; Eastsound, Wash.; and Saratoga, Wyo.
That’s not a typo — it’s indeed Saratoga, Wyoming. I don’t think I’ve heard of half of these places. Maybe this will give me the urge to travel. But why do that? I already live in one of the top 12!
But wait! There’s more!
The Massachusetts Cultural Council has launched a statewide campaign to establish Cultural District designations. Communities must apply. Arts Martha’s Vineyard, an Island organization promoting arts and culture, wants Vineyard Haven to receive the state blessing. To date there are 14 cultural districts in the state. According to the MCC website: “Cultural districts can help local arts, humanities and science organizations improve the quality and range of their public programs so that more local families can benefit from them. They can enhance the experience for visitors and thus attract more tourist dollars and tax revenue. And they can attract artists, cultural organizations and entrepreneurs of all kinds — enhancing property values and making communities more attractive.”
This sounds very promising. But for the designation to have any influence on our economy, continued trumpeting and drumming will be required. If the Vineyard Haven plan is approved, the state will not provide funding but rather official signage to be posted in the designated area. Also, the town would be offered an online presence on state-sponsored websites and would be included in marketing and tourism materials.
What will this designation mean in the long run? Hopefully more than a brush with fame, something besides a smile and an inner glow — and a sign.
We will do our part. As veritable newcomers, my wife and I are already being inculcated and absorbed into the community’s cultural network. We are trying to honor all local customs and abide by local traits and merge seamlessly into our new society. And, of course, we hope to absorb the Island lifestyle without hearing the immortal Oscar-winning words of Marisa Tomei in our ears. Remember when she and Joe Pesci, as two New Yorkers rough around the edges, found themselves in Alabama in My Cousin Vinny?
Vinny: You stick out like a sore thumb around here.
Mona Lisa Vito: Me? What about you?
Vinny: I fit in better than you. At least I’m wearing cowboy boots.
Mona Lisa Vito: Oh yeah, you blend.
Paula continues with the Island Community Chorus after singing in two seasonal concerts and I recently joined the Peter H. Luce Play Readers. We’ve also been known to help with nonprofit development and to partake in as many Island cultural events as we can remember to attend.
The stimulation of artistic expression and appreciation is a good thing. As individuals and a community, what could make us more well-rounded, short of fast food? But since we do live on an Island, as a cautionary measure let me point out the places where we could go overboard.
What comes next — the fashion police and design review board? Will we have to dress a certain way, to be considered properly cultural and fit for the district? Will new shops open selling berets, tweeds, silk ascots and sensible shoes? Will we now be required to take orientation classes at Chautauqua, required to display an imagination fecund to none?
Will we have to speak differently, start living in the subjunctive, stop dangling our participles? Will we be called on to spout pearls of wisdom and disseminate chocolatey bon mots to insure our continued residency? Will there be forced attendance at studios, salons and soirees?
How about the way our homes look? Will there be a Charleston-style review board calling for all shutters to be painted Charleston Green? In that South Carolina haven that hue is nine parts black to one part green. It is the state from which come Stephen Colbert and truthiness, after all.
Just trying to keep everything in perspective. That’s what we like to do here in Vineyard Haven. But please don’t give us a marker that says that. Otherwise our next designation may be: Sign Capital of America.
Arnie Reisman and his wife, Paula Lyons, regularly appear on the weekly NPR comedy quiz show, Says You! He also writes for the Huffington Post.